The ways R.C. Sherriff presents the attitudes of key characters in ‘Journey’s End’
The attitudes of characters in Peter Whelan’s The Accrington Pals and R. C. Sherriff’s Journey’s End are, because of their separate plots and locations, inevitably quite different. The Accrington Pals is set in northern England with largely female main characters trying to cope during war-time, whilst Journey’s End”s setting is exclusively confined to the trenches of Saint-Quentin in France. However, despite the obvious differences in attitude that are linked with the different locations and situations in the two separate plays, there are also a number of ways in which the attitudes to war are very similar.
These similarities highlight the fact that even those who didn’t fight in the war were still affected by it. Class plays a large part in the attitudes of characters in both of the plays. In Journey’s End, Raleigh and Stanhope both come from an upper class background, having gone to the same public school. During his time at school, Raleigh had a great deal of respect for the older Stanhope almost solely because he was in a higher year than him – a concept that was common in public schools at the time – despite the fact that the lower years rarely ever mixed with the higher years.
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However, on the front, when circumstances force the two men together outside of a school environment, a number of class-related problems and insecurities begin to show. Stanhope instantly feels that, because of the drinking problem that he’s developed after many months of nerve-grating war, he might not be the reliable, respectable character that Raleigh used to look up to; he admits to Osbourne, “If I went up those steps into the front line – without being doped with whiskey – I’d go mad with fright”.
However, there was a reason that the older and younger years rarely mingled at school – they didn’t want to appear to be homosexual. If an older boy ever went out of his way to become acquainted with a younger boy, there would definitely have been accusations of homosexuality, and now, on the front, the younger boy, Raleigh, has joined the older boy’s company; Stanhope airs his frustration about this to Osbourne in Act One, “There are one thousand eight hundred companies in France, Uncle.
Raleigh might have been sent to any one of those, and, my God! He comes to mine”. Stanhope is naturally suspicious of Raleigh’s coincidental arrival because of the attitudes of the class in which he has been brought up. The characters in The Accrington Pals, on the other hand, are entirely working class. This is reflected in the way that many of the characters speak in a colloquial manner, and how many of the characters try to make ends meet through menial jobs.
The sheer fact that the Pals all signed up as one big, loud, drunken collective is also a thoroughly working class thing to do. The obvious difference between the working class men in The Accrington Pals and the upper class men in Journey’s End is that, because of their class, there’s a sense that the men from Accrington are expendable, having signed up as ordinary infantry rather than as officers; this is perhaps why the men had to be drunk in order to sign themselves up to the army – to stop them thinking of the potentially deadly consequences of their actions.
It’s also noticeable that a lot of upper class men, like Raleigh, were made officers purely as a result of their class, whilst highly talented, educated men like Tom were as qualified, if not more qualified, to be made officers, but were signed up as infantry because of their working class background.
May realizes in Act One, Scene Two that Tom has been a victim of his environment – had Tom grown up in a less working class area of England, he might not have been talked in to joining the army by his drunken, working class friends, damning him to almost certain death; May makes this very clear to CSM Rivers, saying “He is an apprentice lithographic artist at Warrilows and he’s thrown his future away”.
The attitude to death in both of the plays is, unsurprisingly, a bleak one, but the ways in which death is dealt with are very different. In The Accrington Pals, when Annie sees that a pigeon that she thinks is England’s Glory is dead, she assumes that her husband, too, is dead, and it seems to bring back all of the images of death that she’s ever encountered in her life – like when she tells Reggie to burn the rug because she thinks that her dead father’s been standing on it.
After this event, more of the women begin to become sceptical of the stories in the newspapers that are possibly sugaring the pill; reporting things like “some of our brave soldiers fell here and there”, notably Eva, who, upon coming to realise that she may have lost Ralph, begins to bathe an imaginary version of him. Then, at the end, May has a vision in which she wants to tell a ghost-like vision of a dead Tom how she really felt about him, but simply explodes in anger at Rivers about how futile and hypocritical the army is.
In Journey’s End, on the other hand, Osbourne and six other men die in a raid on a German trench, which causes Stanhope to enter into a state of quiet mourning whilst the rest of the men try and deal with the incident in their own ways; not displaying any signs of real grief (like the kind shown in The Accrington Pals) in a typical army manner. Later, when Raleigh doesn’t come to dinner because of his grief for Osbourne, a furious Stanhope informs him that the officers drink and eat in an attempt to forget death.
The difference between how the men at the front in Journey’s End deal with death and how the women at home deal with death in The Accrington Pals illustrates the need for soldiers to have to become almost emotionless to avoid going insane, as Stanhope says, “You think there’s no limit to what a man can bear? “. The experienced officers have learnt this over time, but Raleigh, being a new officer, is yet to learn.
Also, in the absence of the opposite sex, the females in The Accrington Pals and the males in Journey’s End eventually become nostalgic about the days when most of England’s men weren’t hundreds of miles away, fighting in France, and the certain activities that these days entailed. In Act Three, Scene Two of Journey’s End, Stanhope, Trotter and Hibbert, over a couple of bottles of champagne, tell stories of their women-related misadventures of the past; everyone being in very high spirits considering the situation.
It seems, much like the drinking and the eating, and Trotter’s musings about gardening and Osbourne’s copy of Alice in Wonderland, like the topic of women is something that’s talked about in order to forget the war and to think of better times – they’re not talking about how much they miss the women, and how sad they are to be without them – they’re simply telling light-hearted tales of debauchery and shallowness.
Thoughts of the opposite sex help these soldiers to forget about the death and decay that surrounds them. In contrast, the women in The Accrington Pals seem to miss their men so much that in some cases they feel like they need men, like at the beginning of Scene Four of Act One when Sarah says, “I’m sick of slush and frozen feet. And me empty bed all these months. Just me and a bloody hot brick… I’ll go potty”.
In other places, it’s obvious that some women want their men back because they feel like they perhaps didn’t appreciate them enough when they were at home, which is how May feels about Tom, and, in a way, how Eva feels about Ralph. Even though Eva is able to form the outline of Ralph’s entire body just using her hands, she somewhat regrets not becoming closer to him earlier, and now, after three months of being in a relationship, Ralph’s gone to war, and she worries that he may be unfaithful or even die.
It seems that, because they don’t have the horrors of war that the men in the trenches have to forget about, the women of Accrington are much more sentimental when it comes to remembering their opposite sex, as opposed to the substantially more light-hearted men of Saint Quentin, who talk about women mainly as a distraction. In conclusion, the attitudes of characters in Journey’s End and The Accrington Pals are largely similar.
However, because of the massively different situations that the plays’ characters are confined to, they’re forced to think differently about certain aspects of things. Journey’s End’s characters try their hardest to be completely devoid of emotion, because they have to be, whilst The Accrington Pals’s predominantly female characters are much quicker to allow their own feelings to get dragged into things. These two mindsets, that of the numbed soldier and that of the emotionally charged female townie, inevitably have an effect on the characters’ attitudes.
However, amongst the men of the two plays, even though there’s definitely a natural divide between the attitudes of the upper class and the lower class, as we have seen through our comparisons between the two plays, it’s clear that, as officers become more experienced in war, their attitudes begin to become increasingly similar to those of their men – Raleigh even chooses to sleep and eat with his men rather than be with his fellow officers at one point, which shows how war can change one’s initial attitude to class; it unites people of different backgrounds and beliefs in order to combat what most believed was a common enemy.